Washburn, Topeka community treated by Sunflower Music Festival

Amy Reinhardt

From June 5-13, the 29th annual Sunflower Music Festival took place in Washburn University’s White Concert Hall. A different concert was performed each night at 7:30 p.m. with a supplemental concert at 3 p.m. Saturday, June 13.

The Sunflower Music Festival had its start in spring of 1987. The festival was founded by Charles Stegeman, concertmaster and artistic director. Stegeman selected all the festival musicians. The guest conductor for this year’s festival was Cuban native Andrés Cárdenes, who is also a violinist.

Another individual associated with the Sunflower Music Festival was Carole Hawkins, the festival coordinator. Hawkins has occupied this role for three years, but has been involved in the festival since 1992. This was Hawkins’ last year as festival coordinator due to her plan to retire.

“The number one thing about the festival is that we have world-class musicians who represent the major symphonies throughout the world,” Hawkins said.

The festival repertoire featured professional musicians from national and international symphonies and musical institutions. Some musicians were Kansas natives while others were from Louisiana, Texas, California, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri. Several countries also were represented, such as Brazil, Australia, Germany and Russia.

“The thing that makes this festival work from a musician perspective is that when they come here they can play fantastically and know that the person next to them has their back,” Hawkins said.

The wide range of musicians and music attracted a diverse audience to each performance. Genevieve Akins, a student at Saint Olaf College in Minnesota, has been attending the Sunflower Music Festival for 17 years – since she was two years old.

“I think this festival really brings the community together while bringing great talent to Topeka,” Akins said. “The amount of talent in this festival is extraordinary.”

The festival performances were put on by several musical groups including chamber orchestras, chamber ensembles and string quartets such as the Atrium Quartet from Saint-Petersburg, Russia.

Another group to perform at the Sunflower Music Festival was the Blanche Bryden Institute. The Blanche Bryden Institute was created by festival musicians. The institute is designed for the advanced study of chamber music. Participants included college and high school students between the ages of 14 and 26. After applying for the institute, the students spend a week being coached by Sunflower orchestra musicians.

The students were divided into quartets including woodwind, brass, string and piano. Most had been studying their instrument for multiple years. Chetan Parthiban, a junior at Blue Valley North High School, has been playing the clarinet for 10 years.

The music performed throughout the festival features a variety of well-known composers including Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johann Sebastian Bach.

“Musicians in this festival are so unassuming. They want you to be here because they want to share their gift of music with you,” Hawkins said.

Along with Washburn University, the festival was sponsored by local businesses and philanthropic foundations, including Westar Energy Foundation, Cox Communications, Capitol Federal, Security Benefit, Topeka Community Foundation and more.

Sixty percent of the festival funds were donated by private individuals. This helped make the festival concerts free of charge to the general public.

“This festival gives you the opportunity to experience greatness: to feel it, sense it and absorb it. I don’t know where else you would have that opportunity,” Hawkins said.

The 2016 Sunflower Music Festival will take place June 10-18.

For more information, visit http://www.sunflowermusicfestival.org/